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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Court Frees Conscientious Objector

Released last week after almost five months in jail, conscientious objector Dmitry Neverovsky said Monday it is still too early to celebrate.

Neverovsky, 26, was sentenced last November to two years in prison for draft dodging after he insisted on his constitutional right to alternative civilian service. Although his ordeal is over, there are few signs that the government is ready to guarantee in practice the right that is enshrined in the Constitution.

"My release is just one small victory," Neverovsky said at a news conference.

The State Duma has failed to pass a law on alternative service, but thousands of young men insist upon this right when called before local draft boards. Nikolai Khramov, head of the Anti-Militarist Radical Association, said 1,712 draftees insisted on this right in 1997.

"Using him as an example, the authorities decided to send a very clear message to other draftees: 'Listen, it's very dangerous to follow the Constitution in our country,'" Khramov said.

Neverovsky's mother, Tatyana Kotlyar, said there are criminal cases against conscientious objectors pending in courts around the country.

"It's clear that in the best case scenario, this [crackdown] is coming from the General Staff and the Defense Ministry, and in the worst and more likely scenario, from the president," she said.

Khramov said Neverovsky was singled out to send this message because he and his mother had actively campaigned for alternative service in their hometown of Obninsk, in the Kaluga region.

"Thanks to their campaign, there are almost as many conscientious objectors in Obninsk as there are soldiers, while in Russia as a whole, conscientious objectors account for less than half a percent [of all draftees]," said Khramov.

The conscientious objector ended up in a Kaluga detention center on Nov. 25 when the Obninsk City Court sentenced him to two years behind bars. On Feb. 8, the Kaluga Regional Court overturned the lower court's ruling on a technicality, sending it back to the lower court. Neverovsky remained in jail.

The Obninsk court heard the case again March 3 and decided to send the case back to the prosecutors for further investigation. Again, the court did not bother to let Neverovsky out of jail.

Finally, on April 18, the Kaluga court ruled that he be released.

The case against him is still open, but Khramov predicted the prosecutors would eventually be forced to drop it.

Of his 146 days in jail, Neverovsky spent 15 of them in a punishment cell with no heat, no water and no bed.

The regular cell - where 32 prisoners shared eight beds - was no picnic either, Neverovsky said.

"After two or three months there, a person just starts to rot. Scrapes and things stop healing. There's no oxygen, no vitamins, no sun," he recalled.

"There's one hour for a walk in the fresh air. One hour a day, and you can't really walk around because the courtyard is even smaller than the cell."

Neverovsky said that if forced to choose between jail and the army, he would choose jail again. "Beliefs aren't worth much if a person isn't ready to suffer for them."